Lizzo
Musician Lizzo hasn't let her size prevent her from succeeding in an industry that often excludes larger women. (Illustration by Erik Ojo, Northeastern University)

Lizzo: The Body-Positive Musician You’ve Been Waiting For

Who knew a singing, rapping, twerking flautist would be the key to inspiring body positivity?

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Lizzo

Who knew a singing, rapping, twerking flautist would be the key to inspiring body positivity?

Many listeners have been waiting patiently for plus-sized, body-positive representation in the music industry. On Jan. 29, “The Ellen Show” introduced many of them to who they’d been waiting for: Lizzo.

The young musician gave a live performance of her new single, “Juice,” her most successful track to date, and had the audience up on their feet begging for more. In the song, which is just one of many of Lizzo’s feel-good anthems, she sings, “Ain’t my fault that I’m out here getting loose . . . gotta blame it on my juice.”

Notably, her performance even included her own flute solo. Yes, in addition to rapping and singing, Lizzo is also a classically trained flautist, and one of her signature moves is twerking and playing the flute at the same time.

Lizzo has been producing body-positive, self-affirming music since 2013, and now after years of commitment, her career is finally taking off. Her messages of self-love and confidence are exactly what people have been waiting for.

Melissa “Lizzo” Jefferson grew up in Texas, where she started rapping around age 14; later, after moving to Minneapolis, her music career began in earnest. With the help of an independent label, she released her first album, “Lizzobangers,” in 2013. It wasn’t until 2016 that she caught the eye of a big label, Atlantic Records, and was able to produce the “Coconut Oil” EP.

Right down to the title, “Coconut Oil” expresses the value of self-care; Lizzo has shared that coconut oil is a big part of her skin-care routine and is one way she expresses love toward herself. In the song “Coconut Oil,” she explains this idea further. “I thought I needed to run and find somebody to love but all I needed was some coconut oil,” she says, meaning that she stopped looking for love from someone else and began giving it to herself.

As a plus-sized, black female artist, Lizzo has always wanted to change beauty standards within the music industry. In a New York Times interview, the musician shared her struggles with growing up plus-sized and learning self-acceptance. She admitted that as a middle schooler, she would sometimes use saran wrap on her torso and feet to make them appear smaller.

In another interview, Lizzo said that she used to think she couldn’t be a singer unless she was thin. With time, though, she began to trust her talents to take her to where she thought she belonged. “I had to really look myself in the mirror and say, this is it,” she said. “This is the person I am going to be for the rest of my life and it is not going to change.” Now she hopes to help her listeners gain that same self-love, while also showing that any body type is beautiful.

Her backup dancers are one of the ways that she spreads this message. Her dancers, the “Big Grrrls,” named after Lizzo’s second album, “Big Grrrl Small World,” are all plus-sized, but they move just as well as other professional dancers. “I want another artist to see The Big Grrrls on stage doing the splits and entertaining the crowd at size 16, 18,” Lizzo said, “and I want that artist to say, ‘Who cares about their size? They’re great dancers.’”

So why has it taken so long for people to take notice of Lizzo? Her music is unique and powerful; one of her producers, Ricky Reed, even described Lizzo’s voice as having the same soul as Aretha Franklin’s. Lizzo shared in a Vogue interview that she believes she was at first overlooked by the music industry because she does not fit the beauty standards that ask for thin, white female musicians. In spite of this, the artist says the influence her music has will always matter more than the charts. But there’s no stopping her now; Lizzo’s self-love, confidence and determination are bringing her to the top.

Lizzo has also extended her body positivity to realms outside of music. She has worked on campaigns with brands like Lane Bryant and ModCloth. Last year, she was on the panel at Curvycon, an annual event for plus-sized brands, celebrities, youtubers and more.

Lizzo has also been getting recognized as a fashion icon for plus-sized women, and last year she made appearances at New York Fashion Week. She also modeled the first ever plus-size design created for the FIT Runway 27. Lizzo explained why she loves her work in the fashion industry, saying, “It’s such a wonderful moment that we’re out here celebrating our differences, so we can just celebrate ourselves as women. Not as big women, small women, plus size, sample size. We’re our size.”

Most recently, Lizzo joined a campaign for Good American with Khloe Kardashian. One of the main ads features Lizzo standing with Khloe and two other models, all of them rocking the same, simple black tank top and leggings. Some fans questioned Lizzo’s decision to associate with the Kardashians, but she shared on Instagram that she saw the campaign as a way to expand her audience and also as a way to positively influence the current ideas about body image, saying, “We’ve got an industry to change.”

Listeners can expect great things from Lizzo in 2019. She is in the lineup for Coachella this year alongside big artists like Kid Cudi, Wiz Khalifa and Ariana Grande. She is also releasing her first album since 2016, “Cuz I Love You,” which is coming out on April 19.

She’s confident in the success of “Cuz I Love You,” even saying it will make her become a music icon. Following the release of her new album, she will also be going on a short North American tour. With the momentum of “Juice,” surely “Cuz I Love You” will not disappoint. Whatever “the juice” is, it certainly seems to be working for Lizzo.

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